Portugal is famous for the Lusitano horse, a creature renowned for its courageous character, gorgeous physique, gentle temperament, amazing agility and versatile performance.
Lusitanos are trained for a variety of purposes, ranging from equestrian performances to horse-drawn carriage events.
The origins of the Lusitano breed remain a mystery, but its history can be traced right back to 3,000 BC, making it one of the oldest saddle horses in the world.
A native of the arid, sun-scorched plains of the south-west Iberian Peninsula, the Lusitano has trotted into the 21st century with consummate ease, retaining all of the splendour it enjoyed in Greek and Roman times when it was considered the best horse for combat and hunting.
Hannibal himself is believed to have assembled 12,000 Lusitanos for his Italian campaign and there have been countless references to the horse in literature over the millennia, most notably Homer’s Iliad, which bears full testimony to its ancestral bravery.
The Lusitano’s qualities in combat so impressed the Moors during their invasion of the Iberian Peninsula that they called it the ‘Son of the Wind’. The horse was also considered a treasured gift by the Califs who valued it as highly as precious jewels, plus it was greatly prized by the Italian nobility of the 15th century.
In Portugal, the golden age of breeding Lusitanos was during the 18th century when the first royal stud farms were established.
Today, the horse’s unique attributes and aptitudes enable it to compete at the highest level in equestrian events all over the world. It is also a much sought-after saddle horse for both sport and leisure, as well as a stud horse for its strong character and long genetic ancestry.
Most top Lusitano breeding centres are located in the Ribatejo and Alentejo regions of central and southern Portugal and due to the rise in demand for this very special animal, its numbers are thankfully increasing.
Portugal’s pure-bred Lusitanos have a well-proportioned head with almond-shaped eyes and a medium-length neck that is finely-arched with a narrow hairline. Besides having a muscular chest, their croup (or rump) is strong, rounded and well-balanced.
The average height of a Lusitano horse is 1.6m for males and 1.55 for mares with the most prized colours being grey and bay, although black, chestnut and white are also very popular. As a rule, young stallions are broken in at the age of three to three-and-a-half years old.
A high level of agility coupled with a good aptitude for sudden changes of direction and acceleration make Lusitanos supremely competitive in dressage, show-jumping, combat sports and horse-drawn carriage events.
The most spectacular showcase of the Lusitano is the annual horse fair in Golegã in autumn, giving visitors the chance to see the Lusitano in all its glory. Regular displays can also be seen in Lisbon at the Picadeiro Henrique Calado (indicated on the map below) located at Calcada da Ajuda near Belém and occasionally in the gardens of Queluz Palace.